Tag Archives: hillary clinton

Latest Bettencourt turn removes obstacle for Sarkozy presidential bid in 2017


You thought you were tired of all of the talk in the United States about the inevitability of a presidential run by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in November 2016.France Flag Icon

But imagine if your next presidential election isn’t until May 2017 and everyone is already speculating.

That’s the case in France, where former president Nicolas Sarkozy is now even more likely to become the frontrunner for the 2017 race for the Élysée Palace after French officials dropped a criminal case against Sarkozy in the so-called Bettencourt affair.

Sarkozy was accused of soliciting L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for secret campaign funds.  The fundamentals of the scandal are similar to those for which former US senator and presidential candidate John Edwards stood criminal trial for soliciting secret campaign cash from banking heiress Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, who was 96 years old at the time.

French judges are still pursuing an investigation over whether party officials in Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement) took advantage of Bettencourt’s mental frailty and advanced age in taking campaign donations for Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign — in particular, former UMP treasurer Eric Woerth still faces criminal liability.  But after Monday’s decision not to include Sarkozy’s name in the list of those who face liability, the former president has escaped the worst of his potential legal and political troubles for the foreseeable future.

That means that the single-most difficult obstacle between Sarkozy and a 2017 presidential bid is gone.  Though he’s no longer mis en examen (placed under investigation) Sarkozy’s legal troubles haven’t totally evaporated, and he remains under a cloud of suspicion for a handful of other shenanigans, including allegations that Libya’s regime paid €50 million to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.  But the Bettencourt affair was always the most serious case against Sarkozy.

As with the Clinton 2016 speculation in the United States, it’s folly to think that we can forecast with accuracy the dynamics of an election that’s years away.  But it’s stunning in some ways that Sarkozy, who lost the May 2012 presidential runoff to François Hollande, the candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), remains such a strong challenger for 2017 just 17 months after leaving office.

Moreover, the specter of a Sarkozy return is affect French politics today (and not just 2017) by shaping the way that other top UMP officials posture and by placing pressure on the current, vastly unpopular Hollande regime — the possibility of a Sarkozy comeback also exerts a gravitational pull on the far right of French politics, too.

Only 23% of the French electorate has confidence in Hollande, according to an October TRS-SOFRES poll — Hollande has watched his popularity erode in record time to become the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic:

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France’s GDP growth dropped from 2% in 2011 to exactly 0% in 2012, unemployment has risen to 10.9%, and the economy’s doing not much better in 2013.  Hollande was damaged almost from the beginning of his presidency over a nasty spat between his former partner, 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and his current partner Valérie Trierweiler.  His bold effort to introduce a top income tax rate of 75% (of incomes over €1 million) invited capital flight and global ridicule — and a rejection by France’s top constitutional court.

His woes are so great that I wondered back in May whether the French left (and France, generally) might have been better off if Dominique Strauss-Kahn had survived his sex scandal to run for president.

Most immediately, of course, all of the ‘Sarko 2017’ talk serves to prevent the emergence of a truly post-Sarkozy center-right standard-bearer.  Recall last November’s internal UMP primary to determine a new general secretary — right-wing candidate Jean-François Copé’s 50.03% was so narrow (and so challenged) by his opponent, the more moderate former prime minister François Fillon that the result threatened a UMP civil war.

Though the tensions subsided into more of a cold war than a civil war, there was always a sense that Copé was a stalking horse for a potential Sarkozy comeback — by defeating Fillon, Copé’s narrow win prevented Fillon from becoming the undisputed leader of the French right.

What was a Copé-Fillon showdown in 2012 has now transformed into a more open Sarkozy-Fillon showdown, with Fillon billing himself as the clean-break candidate for 2017, though Sarkozy himself has yet to decide whether to make a comeback bid for the presidency and is unlikely to join the political fray against either Fillon or Hollande anytime soon.  An IFOP poll earlier this year showed that six out of 10 French voters preferred that neither Sarkozy nor Fillon run in 2017, though Fillon generally held higher approval ratings as prime minister than Sarkozy did as president, and there’s reason to believe he would have made a better candidate for the UMP in 2012 than Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, no consideration of the UMP’s machinations would be complete without considering the far-right Front national (FN, National Front) that, if anything, is gaining more strength than either the UMP or the Socialists.  The far right notched a huge victory in a by-election in the southern canton of Brignoles on October 7, when the Front national candidate Laurent Lopez won 40.4% of the vote and will face a runoff against the UMP’s candidate Catherine Delzers, who won 20.8% (another far-right party, the Parti de France, won just over 9%.)

Despite Sarkozy’s lurch to the right on immigration and crime throughout his career, it didn’t stop Front national leader Marine Le Pen from winning 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election.  Among the factors that could push the UMP away from Fillon and toward a leader like Sarkozy or Copé in 2017 is the fear that a relatively moderate standard-bearer like Fillon would allow Le Pen to siphon even more support from the center-right.

Yellen is the ‘tan socks’ candidate for Fed chair — and that’s why Obama should pick her


Financial reporter David Wessel provides a hilarious anecdote about Ben Bernanke, currently the chair of the Federal Reserve, from his days on the Bush administration’s economic team in his 2009 book, In FED We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, that captures in capsule form one of the reasons why Bernanke has made such a great Fed chair: USflag

One day, Bernanke showed up for a monthly Oval Office meeting wearing a dark blue suit and light tan socks.

Bush notices. ‘Ben,’ the president said, according to one participant, ‘where did you get those socks?’

‘Gap,’ replied Bernanke. ‘Three pair for seven dollars.’

The president wouldn’t let it go, mentioning Bernanke’s light tan socks repeatedly during the forty-five-minute meeting.

At the next month’s meeting, Bernanke had convinced nearly the entire staff, as well as U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, to wear tan socks, getting the last laugh on Bush.  Beyond the innocent prank, the implication is clear enough — Bernanke, always a bit of an outsider in Washington, was wearing tan socks in a city of black socks.  That’s perhaps appropriate for a Jewish economist who grew up in South Carolina.

That distance has been one of the understated keys to Bernanke’s success as Fed chair since 2006 — he’s a rare Fed chair who has enough distance from official Washington to be a credibly independent central banker but also sufficient experience to navigate Washington’s politics.  Despite his eight-month stint as chair of the Bush administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, Bernanke had also chaired Princeton University’s economics department for six years and served as a member of the Fed’s seven-person Board of Governors from 2002 to 2005.  He’s not the kind of Washington fixture that Alan Greenspan had increasingly become in his 19 years as Fed chair, nor is Bernanke’s wife a consummate political insider like NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Greenspan’s wife.

As Felix Salmon writes today at Reuters, the Fed chair is one of the two most important officers in the United States.  Bernanke’s successor, who will take office in February 2014, will be even more important to world politics, in at least an indirect capacity for his role in global markets, than U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, U.S. treasury secretary Jacob Lew or U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

Right now, there are two frontrunners:

  • Lawrence Summers, treasury secretary in the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2001, Harvard University president from 2001 to 2006 and the hard-charging director of the Obama administration’s National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010; and
  • Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve since 2010, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004 to 2010, and the chair of the Clinton administration’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999.

The conventional wisdom is that Summers has an edge, because Obama knows him so well, and trusts him, on the basis of his role earlier in the administration.  So Obama therefore prefers to appoint Summers, as do all of the top economic policymakers close to Obama, such as Lew, former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and current NEC director Gene Sperling.

The conventional wisdom is also that while Summers is a exceedingly brilliant and talented economist, he is not someone who values collaboration, a key trait for someone whose goal is to lead the 12-member Federal Open Market Committee that is comprised of the seven members of the Board of Governors and a rotating slate of five of the 12 regional Federal Bank presidents.  The substantive knocks on Summers are even greater.  He supported deregulation within the financial industry during the Clinton administration that allowed for the proliferation of new financial derivatives markets, and he opposed the ‘Volcker Rule’ in the 2010 Dodd-Frank package of financial reforms that restricts banks from using deposits in riskier trading.  That’s not counting his controversial turn at Harvard, when he was forced to resign over comments suggesting that men have a greater natural aptitude for the sciences nor does it take into account the conflicts of his post-government employment with private-sector Wall Street firms like Citigroup and hedge fund D.E. Shaw or his lack of actual experience within the Federal Reserve system.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution argues that Summers is preferable to Yellen because Summers has more ‘right-wing street cred,’ and therefore might work more easily with the current Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and a potential future Republican presidential administration, both because he’s taken more criticism from the left than Yellen and because of Yellen’s background at Berkeley.

But Salmon argues that Yellen would be a better chair on the day-to-day matters that are crucial to stabilizing the U.S. and global economy (noting that any Fed chair would respond to a financial crisis guns-a-blazin’).  Ezra Klein, at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, argues that we don’t know which candidate would be stronger on financial regulation, another key Fed role.  Paul Krugman argues that Yellen’s detractors are motivated by rampant sexism:

Sorry, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that gravitas, in this context, mainly means possessing a Y chromosome.

In the grand scheme of things, both Yellen and Summers are likely to pursue similar policies.  Even though Yellen has been labeled an inflation ‘dove,’ there’s no indication that either Yellen or Summers will abandon Bernanke’s January 2012 decision to set an explicit 2% inflation rate target for the first time in Fed history.  But the next Fed chair will most certainly wind down the Fed’s extraordinary ‘quantitative easing’ actions of the past five years whereby the Fed has purchased assets, bonds and other securities at an unprecedented rate, thereby boosting liquidity in the global financial system.

The reason to appoint Yellen is not because she is a woman, because she’s an inflationary ‘dove,’ because we think she might be a stronger advocate of financial regulation or even because she has more experience within the Fed.  It’s because she will be seen to have more independence  at a time when central bank independence will be crucial to the Fed’s success — that makes Yellen the ‘tan socks’ candidate for Fed chair, and it’s the key reason why Yellen’s nomination should be a slam-dunk case for Obama. Continue reading Yellen is the ‘tan socks’ candidate for Fed chair — and that’s why Obama should pick her

Chris Christie, Rand Paul and the coming Republican fight over U.S. foreign policy


I argue this morning in The National Interest that the recent spat between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and U.S. senator Rand Paul from Kentucky over foreign policy is a lot more complex than the ‘pro-security hawk’ versus ‘libertarian isolationist’ paradigm.USflag

Rather, the coming fight over foreign policy in the Republican Party as we approach the 2014 midterm elections and the pre-primary phase of the 2016 election will take place on three planes:

  • the familiar security/liberty fight over PRISM, whistleblowers, homeland security and other civil liberties matters;
  • unilateralists (in the mould of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton) versus multilateralists like former World Bank president Robert Zoelick; and
  • the traditional IR theory fight between realists (who are often in line with Paul and other libertarians) and liberals (including hawkish neoconservatives as well as liberal interventionists).

While they may be on opposite sides of the liberty/security spectrum, we don’t know where any of the 2016 hopefuls may ultimately land, including Christie himself, to say nothing of U.S. senators Ted Cruz of Texas or Marco Rubio of Florida or U.S. congressman Paul Ryan:

We still don’t know where Christie’s ultimate views on international-relations theory lie because that’s not exactly one of the key concerns of a U.S. state governor. But given that the battle for the future of Republican foreign policy is actually three interconnected fights, it could well be that, despite their other disagreements, he and Paul find common cause against more aggressive neoconservative voices.

The bottom line is that we likely know where the Democrats will fall on all of these fights, especially if their nominee is former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.  That makes the Republican Party an interesting laboratory these days for new ideas and original thinking in American foreign policy.

Rice and Power bring liberal interventionism back to the heart of U.S. foreign policy


U.S. president Barack Obama will shake up his national security team today with the announcement that national security adviser Tom Donilon will be stepping down.  In his place will come Susan Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and in Rice’s place will come Samantha Power as the new UN ambassador (so long as Power is confirmed by the U.S. Senate). USflag

That will place Rice and Power at the vanguard of the administration’s foreign policy for the next three and a half years, and it will anoint both of them as potential U.S. secretaries of state in future Democratic presidential administrations — Rice was considered a frontrunner to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state earlier this year, though she ultimately lost out to former U.S. senator John Kerry after Senate Republicans made clear that they would hold up Rice’s nomination over her role in the administration’s handling of the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi.

Both women share a perspective that the United States has a role to play to boost human rights around the world, including through the use of military force.  Rice, who served in the administration of U.S. president Bill Clinton, ultimately as assistant secretary for African affairs, has often said that U.S. failure to intervene in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and the Hutu massacre of 800,000 Tutsis was a defining moment.  Power (pictured above), a former journalist who covered the fighting in the Balkans and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, has been even more outspoken on the role of U.S. policymaking and its impact on human rights.  Before joining the Obama administration as the senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, Power won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide, which takes the U.S. government and others to task for standing by as genocide occurred in Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda.

As such, Libya plays a central role in the careers of both officials who, along with Hillary Clinton, were among the proponents arguing for the Obama administration to take an active role in Libya to assist rebels trying to overthrow longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi.  That placed them at contretemps with more traditional foreign policy realists like Donilon and Bob Gates, the U.S. defense secretary at the time.  Their success led to a NATO-backed no-fly-zone in Libya and, later, the arming of anti-Gaddafi rebels by NATO allies.  The NATO efforts accomplished the goal, and Gaddafi lost control of Libya in August 2011 and he was executed by rebels in October 2011.

In the tradition of U.S. foreign policy, party labels like Democrat and Republican often matter less than where officials fall on the line between liberals and realists (as the terms are commonly understood in international relations theory).  So as Donilon leaves the White House and Rice and Power ascend, the big story today is less about any one individual than the shift of the Obama administration much further toward the liberal IR perspective.

Though Senate Republicans will not have the opportunity to question Rice because her role doesn’t require Senate confirmation, they will have an opportunity to question Power and will almost certainly bring the discussion back to Benghazi.  But Benghazi’s relevance as a ‘scandal’ is somewhat dubious, especially when there are at least two more important fundamental issues about the administration’s approach to Libya.

The first has to do with U.S. constitutionality and the separation of powers.  Whereas the Bush administration sought a vote in the U.S. Congress authorizing its military action in Iraq back in 2002, the Obama administration controversially argued that its military engagement in Libya, at a cost of over $1 billion, never reached the level required to notify the U.S. legislature and seek congressional approval under the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution.  Critics claim that the law required the Obama administration to obtain authorization to continue the Libya operation within 60 days of its inception.

More significantly for world politics, however, are the adverse, unintended consequences of arming the anti-Gaddafi rebels.  Some of those arms ended up in the hands of Libyan jihadists, and many more ended up in the hands of all sorts of rebels in northern Mail, including jihadists, Islamists and Tuareg separatists, triggering a crisis that toppled Mali’s government and required French military intervention to stabilize the country.  There’s a strong argument that U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011 prioritized the short-term political rights of anti-Gaddafi rebels at the expense of the human rights of northern Malians and, potentially, the human rights of everyone within the African Sahel, which remains a precarious new security challenge.

These questions are especially relevant in light of the ongoing two-year civil war in Syria.   Continue reading Rice and Power bring liberal interventionism back to the heart of U.S. foreign policy

Don’t rule out Joe Biden in 2016 U.S. presidential election


Although today’s been a big day for U.S. president Barack Obama, it’s been nearly as big a day for his vice president, Joseph Biden, who was also sworn in for a second term as vice president — and a vice president who’s had a very important role to play in the Obama administration with respect to foreign policy.USflag

Biden, who first ran for president in 1988, and who served in the Senate from Delaware from 1973 until becoming vice president in 2009, hasn’t exactly made it a secret that he harbors presidential ambitions in the future.

Even if Biden ultimately decides against a run, his ability to project a credible shot at a 2016 campaign means that he won’t descend into lame-duck status over the next four years, which means he’ll be as relevant as ever on international policymaking.

He’s had a few good news cycles recently, and as outgoing secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton starts to bid farewell to the limelight to consider the next stage of her own career, it’s worth noting that if Clinton and Biden both run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, Biden won’t be a pushover — though Clinton is currently very much the favorite.  Biden, who’s 70, isn’t so much older than Clinton, age 65 and recently subject to her own health scare (Ronald Reagan was the oldest person to be inaugurated, at age 69 when he took office in 1981).

Even The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein thinks Biden is a serious contender.

So in between bouncing around inaugural balls, here are five quick points on why you can’t dismiss Biden — and why he’ll continue to retain political currency on the U.S. foreign policy conversation as 2016 approaches: Continue reading Don’t rule out Joe Biden in 2016 U.S. presidential election

Five reasons why Kerry’s appointment as U.S. secretary of state is a slam-dunk

U.S. president Barack Obama is expected to nominate U.S. senator John Kerry today to succeed U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who will leave the U.S. state department as one of the most admired public servants in the United States, despite the grumbling over the 9/11 Benghazi attack.USflag

I’ve argued for a long time that the senior senator from Massachusetts is by and far the best choice for the position, and he topped my pre-election list of potential top diplomats; James Traub over at Foreign Policy made the case expertly shortly after Obama’s re-election:

John Kerry is Hillary Clinton in pants. (Yes, I know, Secretary Clinton also wears pants.) He came within a whisker of being president — much closer than she did — and thus enjoys the aura of the almost-commander in chief. He is, like Clinton, a kind of living embodiment of America. He is immensely solemn and judicious, like her, but, unlike her, immensely tall. He is a decorated veteran with the iron grip of the ex-athlete. His baritone voice bespeaks bottomless gravitas. The man looks and acts more like a secretary of state than anyone since George Marshall. As a casting decision, it’s a no-brainer….

It has to be very flattering to be so earnestly interrogated by an enormously tall man who was almost president of the United States.

But it’s not all his tall, lanky body or his distinctive granite jaw.  There are other substantial reasons to appoint Kerry, many of which emphasize Kerry’s role at the heart of U.S. foreign policy for over five decades: Continue reading Five reasons why Kerry’s appointment as U.S. secretary of state is a slam-dunk

Photo of the day: Mirth in Perth

From Australian prime minister Julia Gillard comes this wonderful photo of her with U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta, who seem to have been all mirth last night.  A pity that Kevin Rudd missed all the fun

The U.S. officials are in Perth this week for mutual defense talks with Australia, where the United States is looking to increase its military operations, including U.S. access to air bases in northern Australia and the use of Perth’s naval base for U.S. warships — giving the U.S. navy easier access to the Indian Ocean.

And Andrew Moravcsik still doesn’t believe in the pivot to Asia?

Handicapping the race to become the next top diplomat of the United States

Regardless of whether U.S. president Barack Obama or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wins next Tuesday’s presidential election, the United States — and the world — will nonetheless be preparing for new leadership at Foggy Bottom. 

Although Suffragio focuses on the politics of countries outside the United States, the U.S. secretary of state is the chief U.S. diplomat and historically — from George Marshall to Dean Acheson to Henry Kissinger to Madeleine Albright to Condoleezza Rice — the secretary of state has played a major role in setting U.S. foreign policy.  As such, the decision will have an immeasurable effect on U.S. foreign policy and, accordingly, world politics.

Obama’s current secretary of state, former New York senator Hillary Clinton, a former presidential candidate and wife of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, has said she will step down after four years, even if Obama wins reelection (perhaps in advance of another presidential campaign in 2016), though there’s an unlikely chance she’ll remain at State for a few months longer due to the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

In those four years, the United States withdrew troops from Iraq, set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, has engaged an ever-more-powerful China, and adjusted to rapidly changing conditions in the Middle East after the ‘Arab Spring’ tumult, including assisting in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

U.S. senator John Kerry (pictured above, middle) and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice (pictured above, top) are routinely thought to be the top two choices in a second Obama term.  Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick (pictured above, bottom) is likewise the favorite in a Romney administration.  In some ways, Romney will have a broader choice — whether to signal in his secretary of state a more establishment, realist, moderate Republican foreign policy or a more hawkish neoconservative foreign policy.

So who’s likely to get the job under either Obama or Romney?  And more importantly, how would each potential candidate guide foreign policy?

Continue reading Handicapping the race to become the next top diplomat of the United States